Survey Department to standardize and romanize geographical names


By Sajitha Prematunge

The Survey Department is in the process of standardizing geographical names in Sinhala and Tamil and will romanize Sinhala geographical names. Senior Deputy Surveyor General, D. N. D. Hettiarachchi said during a recent interview with The Island. This is in addition to introducing the revised version of the 1:50,000 scale map.

The Department is currently in the process of standardizing geographical names in both Tamil and Sinhala. Standardization of geographical names was encouraged in all countries by the UN in 1960. Under the standardization process place names as well as those of geographical features such as names of rivers and mountains will be standardized. Sri Lanka commenced the standardization process in 2015. "We have already collected the geographical names," informed Hettiarachchi.

According to Hettiarachchi a Cabinet appointed committee consisting of academics and representatives of various organizations will finalize the names. These names will be publicized in a website by the end of this month, for public comments. After consideration of public comments, the names will be republished in both Sinhala and Tamil, by the end of the year.

"The committee will not assign new names," emphasised Hettiarachchi. "It will merely decide which of the already existing names are suitable for any one geographical location." For geographical locations with two names in both Sinhala and Tamil languages, both names will be introduced. He further explained that documents in Sinhala will be able to use the Sinhala version of a place name and Tamil documents the Tamil name.

Hettiarachchi informed that Sinhala geographical names will also be standardized. "Without standardization different people spell names of places differently, leading to confusion. For example ‘Matugama’ is also spelled ‘Mathugama’. After standardization there shall be no deviation from the accepted spelling and therefore no confusion."

The process, referred to as the romanization, undertaken by the same committee will ensure that the spelling will convey correct Sinhala pronunciation. India had already introduced the romanization method for the Tamil language, which had been accepted by the UN. The draft of Sinhala romanization has already been sent to Sri Lanka Standards Institution for observations.

Hettiarachchi informed that once it is presented to and passed by Cabinet it will be presented at United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) annual meeting. "Once it is accepted it will be published and all maps of Sri Lanka in English will bear the romanized place names." The set target for romanization of Sinhala geographical names is the end of the year.

The Department is also currently revising the 1:50,000 series. In this series one centimetre on the 1:50,000 map equals 50,000 centimetres (or 500 metres) on the ground and the whole country is covered in 92 sections, each depicting a 1,000 square kilometres in real land extent. Of the 92, the Survey Department has completed 60 and the remainder will be completed by the end of the year.

"The last 1:50,000 series was issued 15 years ago and had not been updated since. The country has undergone many changes since, such as land expansion due to mega development projects within the last 18 years. Land reclamation for Colombo Port City added 2.6 square kilometres to the Sri Lankan land mass," said Hettiarachchi. The new map series will include the new Port City, Expressways and Hambantota Port.

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